Hungarian born film star Lya de Putti (1899 - 1931) portrayed vamps in German and American silent films.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1273/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Hans Natge.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3370/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Frenkel.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 2023/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Fanam.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3178/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Frenkel.
Amalia 'Lia' Putty was born in Vécse, Austria-Hungary (now Vojcice, Slovakia) in 1897. She was a daughter of a Hungarian baron/cavalry officer and a former countess. Lia had two brothers, Geza and Alexander, and a sister, Mitzi. In 1913 (or 1912 according to some sources) she married county magistrate Zoltán Szepessy and she had two daughters with him. In Budapest, she began her stage career with a short stint in the vaudeville circuit. In 1918 she made her screen debut with A császár katonái/The Emperor's soldiers (1918, Béla Balogh). That year she also divorced Szepessy. Shortly after her divorce she married Ludwig Christensen, who died in 1922. She made her next film in Romania, Pe valurile fericirii/The waves of happiness (1920, Dolly A. Szigethy). Then she moved on to the capital of the European silent cinema of the 1920's, Berlin.
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 134. Photo: Phoebus Film. Publicity still for Im Namen des Kaisers/In the Name of the Emperor (1925, Robert Dinesen)
German postcard by Ross Verlag. Number and dating unknown.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 878/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Ernst Sandau, Berlin. Early card of De Putti in which her name is still spelled Lia instead of Lya.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1562/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder.
In 1920, Lya de Putti progressed to perform classical ballet in Berlin. She became the premiere danseuse at the Berlin Winter Garden in 1924. In Germany she played supporting roles in films by famous directors. She worked twice with F.W. Murnau , at the drama Die brennende Acker/Burning Soil (1921) with Vladimir Gajdarov, and Phantom (1922) starring Alfred Abel. She starred in six films produced by Joe May, including the exotic adventure epic Das Indische Grabmal/The Indian Tomb (1921, Joe May) starring Olaf Fønss. Her biggest hit – especially in the US – was the UFA production Varieté/Jealousy (1925, Ewald André Dupont). De Putti played the alluring femme fatale Bertha-Marie, who seduces the simple carnival concessionaire Stephan Huller (Emil Jannings) and then betrays him with the handsome acrobat (Warwick Ward). Feeling doubly impotent because he himself had been a famous aerialist before suffering a crippling accident, Jannings fantasizes about killing his rival - and, finally, does so. De Putti followed this success with star performances in Manon Lescaut (1925, Arthur Robison) opposite Vladimir Gajdarov, and Junges Blut/Young Blood (1926, Manfred Noa) with Walter Slezak.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1267/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder/UFA.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1819/4, 1927-1928. Photo: Fanam.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3817/9, 1928-1929.
Studio mogul Adolph Zukor invited Lya de Putti to come to Hollywood. At her arrival in New York in February 1926, she told American reporters that she was twenty-two years old. Her ocean liner's records list her as having been twenty-six. Her American debut was David Wark Griffith's Sorrows of Satan (1926, D.W. Griffith) starring Adolphe Menjou. The film was released in two versions, one in America and the other in Europe. In the American version one scene had De Putti fully dressed. The same scene in the European release had De Putti topless. She went to work for Universal in such films as The Heart Thief (1927, Nils Olaf Chrisander) starring Joseph Schildkraut, Buck Privates (1928, Melville W. Brown) with Zasu Pitts, and The Scarlet Lady (1928, Alan Crosland). Hollywood generally casted her as a vamp, and she often wore her dark hair short in a style similar to that of Louise Brooks.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1028/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1028/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1269/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder/UFA.
Lya de Putti was rumored to be engaged to Count Ludwig Salm von Hoogstraten, a former husband of the American oil heiress Millicent Rogers, but she denied the engagement. She failed to make it big in Hollywood and her Hollywood efforts were inhibited by her foreign accent when the sound film arrived. She left the screen by 1929 to attempt to make a re-start on Broadway. Later that year she returned to Europe. In Germany she had a part in Rund um die Liebe/About Love (1929, Oskar Kalbus), an all star women's picture with a.o. Lilian Harvey and Valerie Boothby. She went to England to study the language and also made there the silent film The Informer (1929, Arthur Robison) with Lars Hanson and Warwick Ward. It would turn ou to be her final film.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3494/2, 1928-1929. Photo: probably a still from The Heart Thief (1927, Nils Olaf Chrisander).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1268/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder/Ufa.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1931/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Melbourne Spurr, Hollywood.
Lya de Putti returned to America. At the end of 1931 followed a macabre and bizarre accident. De Putti swallowed a chicken bone which had to be surgically removed. At the hospital, she reportedly behaved irrationally and eluded her nurses. Eventually she was found in a corridor. She contracted an infection, then pleurisy in her right side, followed by pneumonia in both lungs. Lya de Putti died in 1931 in the New York hospital. She was only 32. According to Wikipedia, she left "just £800 (UK equivalent at the time) and a few bits of jewellery. Four years earlier, £800 was her weekly wage." She was survived by her third husband, Louis Jahnke, whom she had married in 1922. Her first husband, Zoltán Szepessy, committed suicide shortly after her death. They had two daughters, Ilona (1914) and Judith (1916). Both daughters were interviewed as old ladies for the documentary Das dritte Leben der Lya de Putti/The Third Life of Lya de Putti (1996, Gisela Scheelein).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3452, 1928-1929. Photo: G.L. Manuel Frères, Paris.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3178/1, 1928-1929.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3020/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Frenkel.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3020/3, 1928-1929.
Sources: Hal Erickson (Rovi), Jessica Keaton (Silence is Golden), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Jarod Hitching (IMDb), Wikipedia, Filmportal.de and IMDb.